Cultural literacy implodes as information explodes

Long, long ago before the internet, the only thing that Kamloopsians needed to be informed was a couple of TV and radio stations and a daily newspaper. Those few sources guaranteed a large audience and a lot in common.


We shared the same stories and news. If someone asked if you had seen a the latest episode of Cheers last night, or heard the latest hit on radio, or read all about the big fire, you probably had.

While it’s important to be well-informed, shared media also serves as community cohesion: the shared trivia, news, and incidents that bond a group together, the currency of social interaction. It’s part of the narrative that defines who we are.

It’s called cultural literacy. Outsiders who are not on the inside can be identified in the smallest of ways, by the way they say Kam LOOPS with emphasis on the last syllable or the way they pronounce Tranquille.

The elements of cultural literacy are ever-evolving. Shared media is an expansion of gossip with neighbours over the fence, the sports scores over coffee, the office chatter.

The loss of the Kamloops Daily News means the loss of some that social currency. We can no longer say “did you read in today’s paper?” any more than three times a week. Hit songs are just as likely to be heard over the internet as on local radio.

The internet is seductive because of its immediacy, not because of it’s local relevance. Hundreds of TV channels, many which can be watched whenever we want, fracture local cultural literacy. If you were to ask “did you watch Orange is the New Black last night?” the chances of a blank look are increased unless you are talking to someone who is part of a sub-culture, not a large community.

Countless media sources have the effect of fracturing local cultures and strengthening global ones. They also put pressure on us to know, or pretend to know, what’s happening in wider social cultures and global communities.

This pressure leads to the faking of cultural literacy, Alexandra Samuel told CBC Radio’s The Current. When asked if we saw or heard something, we don’t want to admit that we didn’t because that would put us on the outside of groups we want to identify with said Samuel.

The pressure to know an ever-expanding body of socially relevant facts leads to a lot of feigned knowledge. I see it when people post links to stories they probably have not read –the number be so great that they would be virtually impossible to read.

In an attempt to remain current, people read the Twitter feed of the Oscars and repeat the comments rather than sit there for hours.

For the record, I actually did listen to the downloaded podcast of The Current twice. However, I confess to the temptation of quoting references which I have not actually checked out.

If someone claims to have read this column, ask them what the last sentence says.


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